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Sue Carlton: A city's silly disabled parking ballet

Do rules ever make your head hurt?

Say you are disabled and have a car tag that gives you special parking options to make it easier for you to get around. All good.

Say you're a disabled person who works and parks in downtown Tampa. Your disabled tag means you can park for free in a disabled space, if you can find an empty one.

You can also park free at a metered space. Oh, but did I mention that at a meter you can stay only four hours? And since most workdays last longer, so begins the bureaucratic ballet.

Cheryl Bunting is a budget manager who works on the fourth floor of the downtown School Board building. She has a disabled tag because of a calcified spur cutting into her Achilles tendon that can make walking painful. She keeps her walks as short as possible.

Disabled spaces are first come, first serve. The space assigned to her through her job was still too far, so mornings she would find the closest meter. Just shy of four hours into her day began the ballet: Stop everything, move the car.

Bunting would meet up with two other workers with disabled tags. They made their way to their cars, drove around, swapped spaces. ("Ring around the rosy," she says.) This might have to occur twice a day, and it sounds particularly fun in the rain.

How's that for rules to burden the very people they were intended to help?

And here's the thing: The city doesn't gain empty parking spaces — and the kind of turnover businesses like — because people who repark still take up spaces. Also, the time limit doesn't necessarily generate money, since you still park free elsewhere.

And are we really about cashing in on disabled parking?

A disabled driver can also opt to stay in the same space and pay up. This still requires a trip to the car four hours in and maybe again later with more money for the meter.

And isn't this supposed to be all about making things easier?

City officials point to state law that says a disabled tag gets "a maximum of 4 hours at no charge" at a meter. "However," the law also says, "local governments may extend such time by local ordinance." Hello, empathetic City Council members?

Bunting has been ticketed. She's responsible for training principals on their budgets. "I can't just stop — 'Sorry, I have to move my car.' " She has successfully appealed, though last time a hearing officer said pay up.

This week her employer got her a designated space close to the building, a relief from the ballet. For others, rules remain.

How do they do it in St. Pete? Simple: "We pretty much let them stay there as long as they need to," says Keith Glasgow, parking enforcement coordinator. "If there's a handicap tag or sticker in the window, (we) don't even look at the meter."

Tampa officials fairly point out that the city actually has more than the required number of disabled spaces. And meter parking is geared toward turnover rather than all-day workers who can use garages or parking lots.

"We think giving people four hours and complying with the statute, giving people the opportunity to pay or move, that is about as fair as we can make it," says Public Works director Irvin Lee.

And so for now, rules are rules, even if they make your head hurt.

An earlier version of this column contained incorrect information.

Sue Carlton: A city's silly disabled parking ballet 06/07/12 [Last modified: Thursday, June 14, 2012 10:49am]
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